Harvest Public Media

Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri, Harvest covers agriculture-related topics through a network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.

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Sheri Glazier is used to seeing dry conditions on the family farm in central Oklahoma around wheat harvesting time in June. But this year, the heat came faster than normal. She remembers the unusually early heat one day while driving the combine in the wheat field.

 

Even as more people bake during the pandemic, some wheat farmers may need help to break even this year.

In January, amid much fanfare and optimism, China and the United States signed phase one of a trade deal intended to be the first step toward ending the nearly two-year-old trade war. In the agreement, China agreed to increase its purchases of agricultural products by $32 billion over the next two years. 

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding hit to the global economy, which led to lower prices for commodities like soybeans, one of the things China buys from the United States. 

Both farmers and home gardeners may have trouble finding enough seeds to plant this spring, but while both are facing seed shortages, the causes are unrelated. 

More people are taking up gardening as orders to slow the spread of coronavirus are keeping them homebound. Companies that sell vegetable and other seeds to gardeners are reporting record demand. Meanwhile, farmers are facing a supply shortage of soybean and sorghum seeds. 

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to shore up the country’s meat production amid concerns about worker safety at meatpacking plants.

The order keeps beef, poultry and pork processors open by invoking the Defense Production Act.

Thousands of meatpacking workers across the country have contracted COVID-19, and plants in Iowa, South Dakota and Colorado have closed in response. The order says those closures not only threaten the supply chain but undermine critical infrastructure.

Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers of Iowa conducted a 10-year study on the conservation benefits of planting cereal rye as a cover crop on corn and soybean fields. Their results show the practice improves soil health. The cover crop may cause a slight dip in yields the first year or two, but that can be overcome and eventually small increases in soybean yields may occur.

After the day’s meals are done on a recent Tuesday, Gilbert Community Schools director of food service Deb Purcell shuffles through a stack of papers. Gilbert, a town north of Ames in central Iowa, serves about 1400-1600 meals a day. 

“This is what I do, planning for a week,” Purcell says pointing to columns on a page. “And there's actually seven pages minimum that go with each day.”

She’s counting cups of vegetables and documenting other details about every meal she’s served to comply with stringent federal rules. Her job could soon get easier.

The first phase of a new trade agreement between the United States and China is scheduled for a White House signing ceremony Wednesday and many in the agriculture community are hoping the deal will bring some relief to the farm economy.

A much-anticipated update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is one step closer to implementation.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted 25-3 to approve the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. Two Republicans and one Democrat cast the "no" votes.

On a side street near the Des Moines Water Works, a tall fence surrounds three garden plots. Geese fly overhead while trucks drive past a sign between the road and the fence. It says: “Industrial Development Land For Sale, Contact City of Des Moines.”

Until recently, the city rented the land for growing vegetables but now it’s been rezoned and put up for sale.

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